“Christ’s Ascending Is a Sending” (Luke 24:44-53)

The Ascension of Our Lord
June 2, 2011

“Christ’s Ascending Is a Sending” (Luke 24:44-53)

Today the church celebrates the Ascension of Our Lord. It was forty days after his resurrection that our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, and so this is the day–forty days after Easter, always on a Thursday in mid-to-late spring–when we have this festival. Now there are many things we could say about the Ascension, but tonight I want to focus on this: “Christ’s Ascending Is a Sending.”

Christ’s ascending is a sending. What do I mean by that? I mean that when Jesus ascends into heaven, at that time he sends out his apostles. Christ’s ascending thus is a sending, a sending out of the apostles as witnesses. In Luke 24, Jesus tells them, “You are witnesses of these things.” And in Acts 1, likewise, he says, “You will be my witnesses.” Sending out the apostles as his witnesses–that’s what Christ is doing here when he ascends into heaven.

Christ’s ascending is a sending, a sending out of witnesses. Tonight I want to focus especially on the content of their witness. And so we ask: In Luke 24, when Jesus tells the apostles, “You are witnesses of these things,” what are the “these things” he’s referring to? Well, it’s what he had just told them, namely: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” That’s when he says, “You are witnesses of these things.”

Jesus himself tells us here what the church’s witness, our public testimony, will be. In fact, this is Jesus’ summary of what the whole Bible is about. The heart and core and center of our witness zeroes in on these things: 1) “that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,” and 2) “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” That’s it. That’s the Bible in a nutshell, according to Jesus. That’s the content of the church’s witness. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And repentance and forgiveness proclaimed in his name.

Did you ever wonder why the Apostles’ Creed includes the items it includes? I mean, when you look at it, it seems a little out of balance. There’s a lot more in the Second Article, about Christ, than there is in the First or Third Article, about the Father or the Spirit. And even in the Second Article, look at what is mentioned and what is skipped over. It starts out: “And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.” OK, so far, so good. We’ve established who Jesus is, that he is both true God and true man. We’ve gotten as far as Christ’s birth. But then where does the Creed go next? It zooms forward, fast forward, to the end of the story, if you will: “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried,” etc. In other words, it skips over a lot of material that could have been mentioned–all the miracles, all the teachings of Jesus, and so forth. The Creed zooms right past all that and hurries on to the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. But then, when you look at the four gospels, that’s just where the emphasis lies there, too. In each gospel, out of all the years of Jesus’ life and ministry, there is a disproportionate amount of space devoted to just one week, really–Holy Week, Palm Sunday through Easter.

But isn’t this what Jesus is saying here in our text? Jesus himself says this is where the emphasis should lie: “that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.” Why put the emphasis there? Because this is why Christ came. This is how he won our salvation. You and I needed a Savior, someone to rescue us from our sin and the death that follows. We could not free ourselves. Only God could do that. And so God sent his only Son–you see, it starts with a sending, the Father sending his Son–Jesus Christ was sent to be that Savior. God in the flesh, come down from heaven. Christ Jesus kept the Law in our place, kept it as a man, which we have failed to do. But even though he was innocent, sinless, righteous in God’s sight, Jesus went to the cross. There he died a sinner’s death. Only a man could do that, which Jesus did as the one representative man for all sinners, bearing the judgment, the punishment that the Law requires. The righteous for the unrighteous, Christ crucified, shedding his holy blood for the sins of the world. That’s what Jesus is talking about when he says “that the Christ should suffer.” That’s why it is so essential to the church’s witness. There is no salvation without a suffering, dying Christ.

That the Christ should suffer “and on the third day rise from the dead.” This too is essential to the church’s witness–the Resurrection of Our Lord. Christ rose from the dead on the third day. On Good Friday he died; then came Holy Saturday; and then on Easter Day, the third day, he rose from the dead on that glorious Sunday. Christ demonstrated the victory over death that his death on the cross accomplished. Death could not hold him, true; he is the almighty Son of God. But Christ’s resurrection also demonstrates what is in store for us, that death has no hold on those who belong to Christ. We share in his resurrection. We have eternal life, victory over the grave, because of what our Lord has done for us.

Do you see now why Jesus zeroes in on his suffering, death, and resurrection as the heart of the church’s witness? This is where our righteousness lies. This is where our eternal life is located. This is the focus, the pivot point, of God’s love in action, in all of history. This is the most important thing that God wants all people everywhere to know and believe.

So the work of Christ is then delivered in the proclamation of Christ, delivered and applied to each person through repentance and faith. This is the other part of the church’s essential witness, when Jesus goes on to say: “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name.” You see, it’s one thing to say, “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, suffered and died and rose again.” OK, fine, ho-hum. I mean, it’s amazing, and good for Jesus, but really, ho-hum. What does that have to do with me? That’s why Jesus adds, “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name.” The proclamation brings it home, calling sinners to repent of their sins, to turn from relying on themselves, and to turn instead in faith to Christ, for the forgiveness of their sins. This is God’s word to each one of us here tonight.

Yes, what about you? Do you have sins of which to repent? How have you tuned out God? Where have you failed your spouse, your neighbor? How have you made yourself your own god, making your own decisions about what is right and wrong, rather than obeying what God says about these things? That is sin. Put a name on it. Confess it. Grieve over your sinful condition, that you can’t shake this stuff loose. That is repentance.

But then receive the forgiveness of sins. Jesus Christ died for those sins, for your general sinful condition and for all the specific, ugly ways your sinfulness manifests itself. The good news is being proclaimed to you again this night. Christ suffered and rose from the dead for you. Forgiveness of sins is being proclaimed in his name to you. The Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood is here to deliver and assure you of that forgiveness.

In other words, the church’s witness has made it all the way here to Bonne Terre tonight. Christ’s ascending is a sending–a sending out of this forgiving, life-giving gospel to people who need it. Christ our crucified, risen, and ascended Lord has sent this witness to you.

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Published in: on June 2, 2011 at 5:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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